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UCSD muzzles student media while free-speech groups cry foul

Free-speech advocates are crying foul after a UC San Diego student government official's decision to freeze funding for 33 campus media outlets after one organization aired an offensive commentary about a controversial student party.

The move represents more fallout from the "Compton Cookout" – a party organized and attended by some UCSD fraternity members that mocked black culture and created a firestorm on campus.

As university officials were trying to deal with the reaction to the party, the student-run humor publication the Koala aired a video segment on Thursday "calling black students ungrateful and using a derogatory term for blacks," the San Diego Union-Tribune reported.

(I couldn't find a good quality clip of the controversial broadcast. I can't make out the dialogue on this You Tube clip, but maybe you can.)

On The Koala's Web site, a Feb. 20 update features a "statement" about the controversial party: "The Koala would like to condemn the organizers of the Compton Cookout. If history has shown us anything, you need more black people at your party to have enough black-on-black violence to actually justify the name "Compton." Shame on you. SHAME."

The Koala has built something of a reputation for offending people. The group once aired students having sex on campus television and recently released an issue titled "Night of the Horny Asians," complete with a rape-themed drinking game.

Protest, UCSDStudents voice concerns to UCSD Chancellor
Marye Anne Fox during a protest on Feb. 19

In response to Thursday's broadcast, UCSD Associated Students President Utsav Gupta immediately shut down the campus television station and froze funding for all media outlets funded by student fees, in part to review the policies by which these organizations receive money.

"We must develop effective policies to ensure that our fees do not go to the support the hateful speech that targets members of our community," Gupta wrote.

That spawned a Facebook group called "Tell AS: Mass Censorship is NOT the Answer," which has 1,125 members so far. There's also a less populated "UCSD Students Against Koala" group.

And the folks at the local office of the American Civil Liberties Union, not to mention the people at FIRE, the national non-profit Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, weren't too happy about the way UCSD has reacted to offensive speech.

A spokeswoman for the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties said the organization is still working on a letter regarding the student government president's decision to freeze media funding. Meanwhile, the organization has sent two letters to UCSD.

In yesterday's letter, David Blair-Loy, the organization's legal director, reviewed the contents of the university's new Web site: battlehate.ucsd.edu. He wrote that the university was bowing to political pressure by threatening of possible expulsions based on protected speech.

In a separate letter to UCSD administrators, Adam Kissel of FIRE, wrote that the university and Associated Students have an obligation to distribute student funds to student organizations in a viewpoint-neutral manner and may not make funding or de-funding decisions on the basis of content or viewpoint:

"In acting arbitrarily and on the basis of content concerns, Mr. Gupta has demonstrated an alarming misunderstanding of the university's obligation to uphold the First Amendment when distributing funds to student organizations," Kissel wrote.

UCSD's Associated Students allocate funding each quarter to more than 30 media outlets on campus, the Union-Tribune reports. A Feb. 20 e-mail to the affected organizations said that all winter funds were frozen and no spring funds would be allocated until further notice, according to the FIRE letter to UCSD.

Fourteen media outlets got more than $25,000 in winter quarter, including the conservative newspaper the California Review, the fashion magazine Fashion Quarterly, the newsletter the Progressive, and others.

Filed under: Higher Ed, Daily Report
Tags: UC San Diego

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